The 'Science' of Friendship The 'Science' of Friendship

The ‘Science’ of Friendship

The ‘Science’ of Friendship

  • 16 Aug 0

My friends are like my family.  In some cases, they are BETTER than my family….  Believe it or not, new studies find that friends share more genes than strangers do, though not enough to make them like brothers and sisters, but enough to make them like cousins to the fourth level.  Yep, fourth cousins.

“Birds of a feather flock together” we are told from childhood.  It seems this is more true than not, as scientist James Fowler, a professor of medical genetics and political science, also the co-author of a study on the genetic relationships between friends   at UCSD discovered. The study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used 1.932 individuals tested in pairs, of unrelated friends and strangers.  Another recent study by other researchers found more genetic similarities in spouses than in strangers.

An obvious explanation might be that friends and lovers of the same racial, ethnic and geographic backgrounds find one another most easily, with the least cultural friction-meaning any matching genes are just along for the ride.  But Fowler and co-author Nicholas Christakis, professor of sociology, evolutionary biology and medicine at Yale University, say they don’t think that’s the best explanation-partly because almost all their subjects were of European descent and all had roots in the same town, Framingham, Mass.

Finding that friends are more genetically alike than strangers in that not-so-diverse population suggests something more is going on.  They say it is possible that people actively choose friends like themselves, but also that similar people are drawn to similar environments or placed in them by others.

One intriguing possibility: The sense of smell may draw similar people together.  The researchers found genes controlling smell were among those most likely to match.  So maybe people who share a love for the smell of coffee end up meeting at Starbucks, Fowler says.

Benjamin Domingue, a research associate at the Institute of Behavioral Science at the University of Colorado-Boulder says Fowler and Christakis make a good case that the similarities among friends are real-and even show they can predict roughly how likely it is two people will be friends by looking at their genes and assigning a friendship score.”

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